They were the only two around just then. In fact, from the old days, the common crowd of friends, they were the only two left at all.
"I fear I am a victim of divine healing," Boj repeated when Tret made no reply.
"I fear I will fall victim to your long-windedness, whether I answer or not," Tret told him. "So, rave on."
Tret intended to miff Boj with his answer. He could tell he succeeded by the quick bob of the other old man's head. He judged his ability to rile Boj by how far down his friend's chin went toward his chest and how quickly. The speed was less helpful for a measure as the years spent themselves but the depth of the drop was still an accurate assessment.
The long white beard Boj affected in his dotage sprung up around his jowls, even got into his mouth just then, so deeply and rapidly did his head fall. Tret could see the top of his friend's head clearly. The huge bald spot time had eroded on Boj's pate would have been imminently visible if not for the black skull cap he had taken to wearing a decade before and never abandoned.
Boj's beard he had started before his middle years, when he was still vain about his appearance. He noticed, one day, the sudden drooping of the lines around his mouth and felt this made him look older than his years. His wife refused his kisses for the first time a few days later and that was the end for him. Boj was sure she now felt he looked too old for romance. He sprouted hair just around the mouth in order to hide the sagging lines.
Then, of course, came all the other things, the things no man could predict. The events of his middle years wracked him to his neshoma, the insubstantial, immaterial epicenter Boj held for a soul. When those things were done he still had his beard but not much more. He no longer cared if he looked old, or if his kisses were refused.
"When I lost that love," he said, over and over, "then was I driven back into God's arms."
No one could say how long he stayed in God's arms. Boj Pippert was ever a busy man.
Tret had grown no beard. His face suited him well enough. He had no more wrinkles than any other man on the planet for seven decades in the sun. His hair had gone silver, bright, shining silver, but most of it had stayed. He sported no bald spot to match his friend.
Tret's curse was the limb twisting fractiousness of time. His fingers bent back improbably as though reaching past his palm for his wrist. His knees knocked together even when he laid heavily on his cane now. There was no relief for him in the sun or when the moon shone. Why should he have to listen to another man's rambling self-pity?
Tret felt a flash of melancholy fold over him. The day was hot and they were two old men, very alone in the world. In their childhood, Tret and Boj raced from point to point. In their youth, they ran from place to place. Now, their race was from solitude on the earth to final solitude in the earth.
As always, each of the two friends wished to be first to finish.
"I fear I have been the victim of divine healing," Boj repeated, for the third time, and let his eyes close over his chest, spitting the white hair out of his mouth. He was soon asleep, for the mid-morning was oppressively warm and humid. There was not much more to do that day, until a breeze picked up or the night came to cover.
In five seconds, Boj, victim of divine healing, merchant, mercenary, mendicant, fell into a deep sleep.His chest rose and fell rhythmically, with only an occasional hiccup. Boj was the victim of Orpheus now, though he would never have admitted his fall to a pagan god. He was far too orthodox.
Tret watched his oldest surviving friend for a moment. He sighed deeply, a thousand memories vying with a hundred feelings for space between his eyes.
"Yes, you are the victim," Tret whispered. "You are victim of the divine."